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- Moon of Israel - 30/49 -
and looked older. Then he swore some oath to gods and men which Roi dictated to him, and before all the company put on the double crown and the other emblems, and took in his hands the scourge and golden sickle. Next homage was paid. The Princess Userti came first and kissed Pharaoh's hand, but bent no knee. Indeed first she spoke with him a while. We could not hear what was said, but afterwards learned that she demanded that he should publicly repeat all the promises which her father Meneptah had made to her before him, confirming her in her place and rights. This in the end he did, though it seemed to me unwillingly enough.
So with many forms and ancient celebrations the ceremony went on, till all grew weary waiting for that time when Pharaoh should make his speech to the people. That speech, however, was never made, for presently, thrusting past us, I saw those two prophets of the Israelites who had visited Meneptah in this same hall. Men shrank from them, so that they walked straight up to the throne, nor did even the guards strive to bar their way. What they said there I could not hear, but I believe that they demanded that their people should be allowed to go to worship their god in their own fashion, and that Amenmeses refused as Meneptah had done.
Then one of them cast down a rod and it turned to a snake which hissed at Pharaoh, whereon the Kherheb Ki and his company also cast down rods that turned to snakes, though I could only hear the hissing. After this a great gloom fell upon the hall, so that men could not see each other's faces and everyone began to call aloud till the company broke up in confusion. Bakenkhonsu and I were borne together to the doorway by the pressure of the people, whence we were glad enough to see the sky again.
Thus ended the crowning of Amenmeses.
THE MESSAGE OF JABEZ
That night there were none who rejoiced in the streets of the city, and save in the palace and houses of those of the Court, none who feasted. I walked abroad in the market-place and noted the people going to and fro gloomily, or talking together in whispers. Presently a man whose face was hidden in a hood began to speak with me, saying that he had a message for my master, the Prince Seti. I answered that I took no messages from veiled strangers, whereon he threw back his hood, and I saw that it was Jabez, the uncle of Merapi. I asked him whether he had obeyed the Prince, and borne the body of that prophet back to Goshen and told the elders of the manner of the man's death.
"Yes," he answered, "nor were the Elders angry with the Prince over this matter. They said that their messenger had exceeded his authority, since they had never told him to curse Merapi, and much less attempt to kill her, and that the Prince did right to slay one who would have done murder before his royal eyes. Still they added that the curse, having once been spoken by this priest, would surely fall upon Merapi in this way or in that."
"What then should she do, Jabez?"
"I do not know, Scribe. If she returns to her people, perchance she will be absolved, but then she must surely marry Laban. It is for her to judge."
"And what would you do if you were in her place, Jabez?"
"I think that I should stay where I was, and make myself very dear to Seti, taking the chance that the curse may pass her by, since it was not lawfully decreed upon her. Whichever way she looks, trouble waits, and at the worst, a woman might wish to satisfy her heart before it falls, especially if that heart should happen to turn to one who will be Pharaoh."
"Why do you say 'who will be Pharaoh,' Jabez?" I asked, for we were standing in an empty place alone.
"That I may not tell you," he replied cunningly, "yet it will come about as I say. He who sits upon the throne is mad as Meneptah was mad, and will fight against a strength that is greater than his until it overwhelms him. In the Prince's heart alone does the light of wisdom shine. That which you saw to-day is only the first of many miracles, Scribe Ana. I can say no more."
"What then is your message, Jabez?"
"This: Because the Prince has striven to deal well with the people of Israel and for their sake has cast aside a crown, whatever may chance to others, let him fear nothing. No harm shall come to him, or to those about him, such as yourself, Scribe Ana, who also would deal justly by us. Yet it may happen that through my niece Merapi, on whose head the evil word has fallen, a great sorrow may come to both him and her. Therefore, perhaps, although setting this against that, she may be wise to stay in the house of Seti, he, on the balance, may be wise to turn her from his doors."
"What sorrow?" I asked, who grew bewildered with his dark talk, but there was no answer, for he had gone.
Near to my lodging another man met me, and the moonlight shining on his face showed me the terrible eyes of Ki.
"Scribe Ana," he said, "you leave for Memphis to-morrow at the dawn, and not two days hence as you purposed."
"How do you know that, Magician Ki?" I answered, for I had told my change of plan to none, not even to Bakenkhonsu, having indeed only determined upon it since Jabez left me.
"I know nothing, Ana, save that a faithful servant who has learned all you have learned to-day will hurry to make report of it to his master, especially if there is some other to whom he would also wish to make report, as Bakenkhonsu thinks."
"Bakenkhonsu talks too much, whatever he may think," I exclaimed testily.
"The aged grow garrulous. You were at the crowning to-day, were you not?"
"Yes, and if I saw aright from far away, those Hebrew prophets seemed to worst you at your own trade there, Kherheb, which must grieve you, as you were grieved in the temple when Amon fell."
"It does not grieve me, Ana. If I have powers, there may be others who have greater powers, as I learned in the temple of Amon. Why therefore should I feel ashamed?"
"Powers!" I replied with a laugh, for the strings of my mind seemed torn that night, "would not craft be a better word? How do you turn a stick into a snake, a thing which is impossible to man?"
"Craft might be a better word, since craft means knowledge as well as trickery. 'Impossible to man!' After what you saw a while ago in the temple of Amon, do you hold that there is anything impossible to man or woman? Perhaps you could do as much yourself."
"Why do you mock me, Ki? I study books, not snake-charming."
He looked at me in his calm fashion, as though he were reading, not my face, but the thoughts behind it. Then he looked at the cedar wand in his hand and gave it to me, saying:
"Study this, Ana, and tell me, what is it."
"Am I a child," I answered angrily, "that I should not know a priest's rod when I see one?"
"I think that you are something of a child, Ana," he murmured, all the while keeping those eyes of his fixed upon my face.
Then a horror came about. For the rod began to twist in my hand and when I stared at it, lo! it was a long, yellow snake which I held by the tail. I threw the reptile down with a scream, for it was turning its head as though to strike me, and there in the dust it twisted and writhed away from me and towards Ki. Yet an instant later it was only a stick of yellow cedar-wood, though between me and Ki there was a snake's track in the sand.
"It is somewhat shameless of you, Ana," said Ki, as he lifted the wand, "to reproach me with trickery while you yourself try to confound a poor juggler with such arts as these."
Then I know not what I said to him, save the end of it was that I supposed he would tell me next that I could fill a hall with darkness at noonday and cover a multitude with terror.
"Let us have done with jests," he said, "though these are well enough in their place. Will you take this rod again and point it to the moon? You refuse and you do well, for neither you nor I can cover up her face. Ana, because you are wise in your way and consort with one who is wiser, and were present in the temple when the statue of Amon was shattered by a certain witch who matched her strength against mine and conquered me, I, the great magician, have come to ask /you/--whence came that darkness in the hall to-day?"
"From God, I think," I answered in an awed whisper.
"So I think also, Ana. But tell me, or ask Merapi, Moon of Israel, to tell me--from what god? Oh! I say to you that a terrible power is afoot in this land and that the Prince Seti did well to refuse the throne of Egypt and to fly to Memphis. Repeat it to him, Ana."
Then he too was gone.
Now I returned in safety to Memphis and told all these tidings to the Prince, who listened to them eagerly. Once only was he greatly stirred; it was when I repeated to him the words of Userti, that never would she look upon his face again unless it pleased him to turn it towards the throne. On hearing this tears came into his eyes, and rising, he walked up and down the chamber.
"The fallen must not look for gentleness," he said, "and doubtless, Ana, you think it folly that I should grieve because I am thus deserted."
"Nay, Prince, for I too have been abandoned by a wife and the pain is
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